“That was a most curious and interesting remark you made about feeling, occasionally, very childish, in certain situations. Nicholas, don’t you know about people this first and most crucial fact: every single one is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child….
in many other ways obviously you are still childish—how could you not be, you alone among mankind? It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances…..
Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own….
That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster…..
The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all. It was a saying about noble figures in old Irish poems—he would give his hawk to any man that asked for it, yet he loved his hawk better than men nowadays love their bride of tomorrow. He would mourn a dog with more grief than men nowadays mourn their fathers.
Ted Hughes wrote a letter to his son when his son was a young adult, and these excerpts are part of that letter. Nicolas, his son, was one when his mother, Sylvia Plath committed suicide. Ted and Sylvia had been married for seven years, had two children,were both exceptionally gifted people. Ted was devastated by her death, and demonised for it by many onlookers. Sylvia was a depressive and had had difficulties before with dealing with it. Did Ted look for suffering? He was a complex interesting man, studied Literature at Oxford for two years before changing to Anthropology, and had an intuitive response from childhood to nature. As a teenager living in Yorkshire, he had immersed himself in Shakespeare as an antidote to the boredom of youth. All these inform his understanding of his life experience, he looks for the essential life spirit , he has fascination in storytelling, in Cabbala, occult Neoplatonism and alchemy. So when his second partner commits suicide alongside killing his four-year old daughter, what does he do to hold on? Where is his strength to endure loss of such magnitude, such trauma ? He believed poetry held magic, had power to heal, and he used that power to heal himself. He wanted poetry to heal the world.
I am deeply moved by his letter to his adult son. I shall be studying some more about his life, and read more of his poetry . I have always found him difficult to understand, but perhaps now is a good moment to start to try.
You can read the full letter here,http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/09/live-like-mighty-river.html
Image source: http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/cambridgeauthors/hughes-birthday-letters image
Thanks go to
http://ann.skea.com/THHome.htm for such a marvellous resource of information and review.